THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Bandz in Boston

One day, local parents had never heard of them. The next, kids everywhere were clamoring for this newest toy trend. They're called silly bands, and they're cute, cheap, and out of control.

By Beth Teitell
Globe Correspondent / June 3, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

  • E-mail|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

Casey McNamara, a Brookline fourth-grader, burst out of school and onto the playground dressed like a thoroughly modern kid: an enormous pack on her back, and, on her wrist, a rainbow of thin, stretchy bracelets known as silly bands.

“I really don’t know why I like them,’’ said Casey, 10, shrugging cheerfully as she chatted with other girls who were similarly decked out. “I figured other people liked them.’’

She figured right.

The rubbery bands, which come in a multitude of collectible shapes — cowboy boots to monkeys to Wally the Green Monster — are so trendy that if they were a person, they’d be Justin Bieber.

Silly bands meet all the requirements of a modern craze. They’ve nabbed the top-selling spots on Amazon’s toys and games category. Kids can’t stop talking about them. Parents are fighting over limited supplies, according to one manufacturer. Schools are banning them. A-list celebrities are reportedly requesting customized packs for fans. And, of course, there’s the requisite Facebook page, Twitter feed, and YouTube videos.

Seen stretched out on the wrist, the bracelets — known generically as silly bands, but sold as Silly Bandz, Zanybandz, Stretchy Shapes, and Goofy Bands — don’t look that special. It’s off-wrist that the genius of the product can be appreciated. They come in such a wide variety of shapes that there may not be a human alive who couldn’t find something appealing.

There are Disney princess bands, “Toy Story’’ bands, major league sports teams bands. There are “Glow With God’’ bracelets for the faithful, stethoscope and syringe bracelets for the medically inclined, military-themed bands for the patriotic.

They’re cute, cheap (about $3 for a pack of 12, and about $5 or higher for a pack of 24), and out of control.

“When history looks back,’’ said Michael Lewis, the CEO of Forever Collectibles, which sells Logo Bandz bracelets, “the most interesting thing about this phenomenon is that it’s 100 percent viral. There’s no marketing.’’

He extolled the bands’ appeal to both genders, all ages, and a low price that pleases recession-weary parents. “If you can do shut-me-up product for $4.99, you won that day,’’ he said.

The bands have been around for a few years, but the craze kicked into high gear in the United States about a year ago in Alabama, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Toledo, Ohio, the hometown of the company that makes Silly Bandz.

Now they’re here — at schools, birthday parties, Little League games — and parents of obsessed kids all tell a similar story: One moment they’d never heard of the bands, and, the next, they’re rushing to Modell’s Sporting Goods, toy stores, even Rugg Road, an artsy stationery store on Beacon Hill, to satisfy their kids’ cravings.

“He came home and said he had to go to iParty,’’ said Melissa Rose of Natick, recalling her introduction. Her 9-year-old son had gotten two at school, but needed more. “In one afternoon he went from two to 50,’’ she said.

Elizabeth Sebrene’s education came at a dog park in Cambridge, where she was walking her Morkie when another child gave her 5 1/2-year-old son Alex a few animal shapes, and a love affair was born. The very next day she hit a Walgreen’s to find more.

“He seemed to really enjoy them,’’ said Sebrene, a medical assistant from Belmont. “They reminded me of a friendship bracelet.’’

Erin Lindo, a Newton mom, learned about them when she took her twin daughters, Molly and Kylie, age 6 1/2, to Snip-its for haircuts and the girls begged for them. “I didn’t even know what I was buying,’’ Lindo said. Now both girls are self-proclaimed collectors. Asked how many she wanted, Molly grinned. “Unlimited,’’ she said.

The bands are so popular (and distracting) that some area schools are taking action. In Milton, the principal of the lower school of the St. Mary of the Hills School asked students to stop wearing the bands after teachers reported that some kids were crying over lost bracelets or playing with the bands instead of listening in class.

In Arlington, John A. Bishop Elementary School principal Stephen Carme banned students from playing with the bands during school hours because they were becoming a distraction. Kids were trading them when they were expected to be lining up for music or gym, or working on projects together, he said.

“First you see 20 kids with them,’’ Carme said, “and all of a sudden, they all have them.’’

Kids at one school in Boston have found a way around the anti-silly band rules. Not allowed to trade during school hours, they simply write down what they will trade — say, a dinosaur for a turtle — and make the swaps later, reported Lillian McIntyre, 9, a third-grader from Roslindale.

She has 36 of the bands, which she was wearing over a cast on her right arm. The cast was a blessing, she explained, since sometimes silly bands can feel tight on her wrist. “I’m lucky I have a cast.’’

The bands are becoming popular with some grown-ups, too.

Tina Wells, CEO of the New Jersey-based trend agency Buzz Marketing Group, and author of the tween series Mackenzie Blue, said she was at first confused when she saw others wearing red bands at a corporate meeting. “I thought a lot of people are into Kabbalah,’’ she said, mistaking the bands for the thin red-string bracelets followers wear.

Chris Byrne, content director of TimetoPlayMag.com, said a large part of the bands’ popularity is that they let kids show they’re with it for very little money. “It says, ‘I’m part of the culture in this moment.’ ’’

Of course, in the future, silly bands may seem as quaint as Beanie Babies, Pogs, or Garbage Pail Kids, but hey, that’s tomorrow.

“Five years from now,’’ Byrne said, “people will be asking, ‘What was the big deal with the rubber bands?’ But for right now, it really is a defining moment in time.’’

Send comments to gsection@globe.com